The Upper City has a core and that is Piazza Vecchia. It is not too big, but it is adorned by artistic beauties and places of historical interest as a pearl necklace would do.
It is difficult to stop the gaze on only one of the corner of the square, rectangular of course, but divided into two parts by the Palazzo della Ragione.
It was built after the XII century and it was a political center of the city. There is a cloister on the ground, supported by columns and decorated capitals on which archs are placed and on the floor a sundial was realized.
Next to the Palazzo della Ragione there is the Torre Civica called Campanone (Campanone Tower) that signed using 100 tolls the closing of the doors of the city. They strike again nowadays.
The Palazzo del Podestà is adjacent to the Tower and now it is used as a space for some multimedial exhibitions by the Historical Museum.
The neoclassical white marble building that well matches with the square is Palazzo Nuovo where the Angelo Mai library is set, a very beautiful place also inside but now under restoration.
The square goes on also behind the Palazzo della Ragione. On the southern side, indeed, there are the Duomo also called Chiesa di Sant’Alessandro (Sant’Alessandro’s Church), enriched by frescos through them also some by Tiepolo, and the Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major), which is in Romanesque outside and the rich interior is from the Baroque period, due to the continuous interventions during the centuries. Also into the church there are some frescos painted by Lotto and there is also the Donizetti’s tomb.
You cannot miss Piazza Vecchia in the Upper City, but you can miss yourself through its splendors, all focused in one space.
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Piazza Vecchia is the most beautiful square in the upper town of Bergamo. In the Middle Ages it was the center of Bergamo's political life and now you can still see its political palaces: Palazzo della Ragione (with a lion on his facade, symbol of the Venetian domination), Palazzo del Podestà and Angelo Mai library. In the middle of the square there is the Contarini fountain, a symbol of Bergamo, and all around a series of historical pubs and restaurants, where you can drink a glass of wine outside, breathing the medieval atmosphere of the city. If you are visiting Bergamo, don't forget to go back to Piazza Vecchia at 10 in the evening, because Piazza Vecchia it's the best place to listen to the Civic Tower tolls, that every evening remind the city's door closure during the Middle-ages. Piazza Vecchia is a magic medieval corner in Bergamo and you can't forget to visit it!
Take the lift up to the top of The Campanone - and I should have added - and don't forget to take your earplugs.
The Campanone, or Civic Tower, has played an important role in Bergamo's history, but not only that, from the top you can get a fantastic view of the city and beyond.
It costs €3 for adults to take the lift up to the top of the Bell Tower, or if you're a sucker for punishment, you climb the steps for the same price (Sept 2012).
Read about the history of this tower before you get to the top if you can because you won't be able to concentrate on reading about it when the bells start ringing - and they seem to keep ringing even when you don't think they should be.
In times of yore these bells rang out at 10pm to warn the citizens of Bergamo that the entrance doors to the city were about to close. To keep up the tradition the bells are still rung at 10pm - a hundred times!
You may get fed up with the bells but you won't get fed up with the views though.
It has been claimed (by the Bergamo tourist board among others!) that this is one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. Not having seen them all I am in no position to judge, but that it is beautiful cannot be in doubt. I guarantee your first sight of it will cause you to stop in your tracks and stare! Mine was as I arrived in Città Alta on my first evening, dragging my suitcase along the cobbles after a long train journey from Ancona, eager to reach my hotel, shower and go out to find my friends – but even so I had to stop and admire this wonderful space as I passed.
In its centre is a beautiful white marble fountain, the lions giving away its origins as Venetian. This was a gift to the city of Bergamo from Alvise Contarini in 1780 to mark the end of his time as Podestà (the Venetian high official who governed the city). This is naturally a focal point for activity, particularly popular with children.
Dominating the whole of the southern end (opposite to Via Colleoni) is the imposing Palazzo della Ragione, the Palace of Reason, where “reasoning took place”, or rather, where the Podestà and elder rulers of the city would govern public affairs and meet with the people.. This was built in the 12th century (of the piazza’s buildings, only the Torre Civica or Camponone is older) but substantially changed under the Venetians, who knocked through the ground floor walls to give views of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and Capella Colleoni beyond, and moved the outside staircase to its present location on the right of the building, adding the connecting stone bridge. The winged lion that dominates the frontage of the Palazzo is an 18th century addition however, commemorating 300 years of Venetian dominance. It was donated by Venice as a reminder of the ancient ties between the two cities. It replaced one that was here during the period of Venetian rule but which was destroyed by the French under Napoleon’s command.
On the western side adjacent to the Palazzo della Ragione is the Palazzo del Podestà. This was, as the name suggests, the residence of the Podestà, the Venetian governor of Bergamo. It was originally built by the powerful Suardi family in about 1340 and was once decorated with frescoes by Bramante. Most of these are sadly lost, but those that remain are now carefully preserved inside the Palazzo della Ragione (though we didn’t have time to go inside to see them unfortunately).
At the end of the 18th century the Venetians left Bergamo. Today the Palazzo houses the University of Bergamo’s Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature.
Next to the Palazzo del Podestà is the Torre Civica or Camponone, covered in a separate tip. The remainder of this side, and all of the eastern, is taken up with small shops, cafés and bars, whose tables spill on to the piazza. On the northern side, along Via Colleoni, is the white marble Biblioteca Civica, also sometimes referred to as the Palazzo Nuovo, which was originally built as a town hall for Bergamo at the beginning of the 16th century.
I really liked the fact that this is not only a beautiful piazza, but one that still plays an important role in the life of the town. Students gather here to chat before or after lectures and visits to the library. Local families were breakfasting here after Mass on Sunday morning. And, because it was a holiday weekend in Italy, there were plenty of events taking place here. We saw a children’s tug-o-war competition, a “greasy pole” contest and an evening performance staged here.
We will save the Torre Civica for another day, as on our tour there was not time to go up.
Instead we went through the stone arch next to the Palazzo della Ragione to view the splendours that surround the Piazza Duomo.
After a leisurely Sunday breakfast Chris and I went to Mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria Magiorre (Giulia, our guide from Friday, had told me that the singing there was good – and it was indeed). After that, and after coffee in one of the cafés around the Piazza Vecchia, we decided to ascend the Torre Civica or Campanone in one corner of the piazza.
Bergamo’s Torre Civica or Civic Tower dates back to at least the 12th century and is more than 52 metres tall. Locals call it “Il Campanone”, the big bell, which for centuries has been rung to call citizens’ meetings, gather the people together when a enemy was near, or to warn of a fire. Even today, at 10.00 PM every evening, it still tolls the curfew as it has done for centuries, ringing 100 times to call the people of Città Alta back to the safety of their walled city before the gates would be locked for the night.
The tower was initially only 38 metres high, with extra height being added over those years. The clock was installed in the 15th century, and various repairs have been made following fire damage and being struck by lightning. The large bell had a narrow escape during the Second World War when the Germans considered melting it down to manufacture weapons.
More recently a glass lift has been installed in the heart of the tower, so visitors today have the option of climbing the steps or going up in a fast modern lift. The fee to ascend is the same regardless of which means you choose (€3 in June 2012) – we opted for the lift, and I noted that even if you choose this option there is still a short narrow flight of stone steps to take you to the very highest point, so those unable to climb at all would have to be content with the partial views from the floor below.
And what views you get up here! A stunning panorama of Alta, naturally, but also Bassa and the plains beyond, and up to the nearby hill of San Vigilio. You can also get a rather different perspective on some of the main sights of Alta, such as the Piazza Vecchia (see photo four) and the buildings around the Piazza Duomo (photo five). We spent quite some time here, taking photos and soaking up the scenery.
When you finally descend, do take a few minutes to check out the room at the base of the tower, where you can see the remains of the ancient Roman forum and shops that have been partially excavated. There is no charge to view these by the way, so worth doing even if you don’t plan to ascend the tower.
The tower is open in the summer months (mid March to late October) from 9.30am to 1.00 pm and 2.00 to 5.30pm Tuesdays to Fridays, and 9.30am to 1.00 pm and 2.00 to 7.30pm Saturdays and Sundays (closed Mondays). Ask at the tourist information office if you’re visiting off season as access can be arranged by reservation.
Descending from the tower we were back in the Piazza Vecchia, where both locals and visitors were enjoying the Sunday sun in the several bars and cafés along its longer sides.
One bar here had already became a favourite of mine, the Bar Flora, so we headed there for a spot of lunch.
There is a most wonderful Medieval covered stairway in Piazza Vecchia. It dates from 1453 and leads up to the first floor of Palazzo della Ragione.
Impressive enough for its age alone. But do take a few minutes to walk up and down it, even if you don't intend to visit the Palazzo itself (which, at present...2011...contains some artworks from the closed-for-renovation Accademia Carrara).
The staircase is lined with ancient memorials, presumably removed from their original sites around the Duomo and SM Maggiore. Well worth an exploration.
...you must wander through Piazza Vecchia in Citta Alta. You can decide for yourself whether it is the 'most beautiful square on earth' (Stendahl thought it was!).
It is certainly very pretty indeed, with lots of historical interest. The 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione stretches across one side (do look at its wonderful early Medieval carvings), a mid-1400s covered stairway alongside it, a superb 12th century tower (the Torre Civica) looming overhead and glimpses of the Cappella Colleone and Santa Maria Maggiore through its gaps.
Facing the Palazzo is the Palazzo Nuovo, started in the 1600s but only finally completed in 1958 (!). It houses the civic library.
In the centre of the square is a fountain (1800s) and along each side a whole row of ancient buildings of various types..one of which includes a rather excellent gelateria!
You can't miss the Piazza Vecchia, but it does repay more than a few minutes' glance. Take time to examine the buildings and seek out the clues to their antiquity...and have a gelato!
Also known as Torre Civica, this 53 metre high tower sits next to the Palazzo Ragione, and was built in the 11th Century, by the Suardi family.
Like, its neighbour, it has also been damaged many times by fire, and has undergone many reconstructions and repair programmes.
The tower was later passed on to the Municipality of Bergamo, when it became known as Torre Civica, or The Civic Tower.
Apparently the citizens of Bergamo (Bergamasks) prefer its name of Torre del Campanone, or just Campanone (The Bell)
Its fifteenth-century bell narrowly escaped being melted down by the Germans to make arms during World War II.
It tolls every half-hour.
At 2200hours each evening, the bell rings out over a hundred times (I think I've read that it's 180 - I lost count!)! This practice dates back to the time when the gates to this walled city were closed at night, and thus served as a warning for the citizens to return, or face being locked out!
I enjoyed sitting at a bar in the Piazzo Vecchia listening to the bells ringing out.
The bell also used to be rung to call people to meetings, and to warn of danger such as enemy approaching or fire.
On the tower is also an attractive clock (pic 5)
It is possible to climb to the top of the tower, for its panoramic views over Bergamo and beyond.
However, on my two visits here, I took the lift (elevator) to the top. This glass lift was surprisingly smooth and quick - In 30 seconds you are transported 35 metres skywards!
(This would be a suitable place to visit for those with limited mobility)
Try to time your visit for late afternoon or sunset for the best light and views - enjoy the Alpine scenery, and views over Bergamos rooftops and beyond.
May to mid-Sept regular 10am-8pm, Fri & Sat until 10pm.
Mid-Sept to Oct Mon-Fri 9.30am-12.30pm & 2-7pm, Sat & Sun 10am-7pm.
Nov-Feb Sat & Sun 10.30am-12.30pm & 2-6pm.
March & April Wed-Sun 10.30am-12.30pm & 2-8pm.
For 5 euros I purchased a ticket that allowed me to visit this tower, as well as The Rocco and its Museo Storico, Convento di San Francesco, Torre de Cadutti and Museo Donnizettione You don't need to do this on the same day.
The girl on the ticket desk wasn't too helpful- I think she was wanting to read her book more than give advice. I hadn't got my bearings in Bergamo, and wasn't sure where Rocco etc were - I thought that they were the adjacent buildings - I later realised that they were in a different area of Bergamo.
Update, when I visited again in April 2009, I was sold a single ticket for visiting the tower - stunning views over the snow capped Alps at sunset. Wowed my 6 friends - but it was very cold!
This impressive building forms the north edge of the Piazza, cut off from the square, by the narrow Via Gombito, which leads here from near the funicular station. (This street becomes Via B. Colleoni after the square).
It is a popular place for the University students to sit on its steps as they eat, drink and chat.
The library was built in1604 and was designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, (who was a student of Palladio) as the new Town Hall.
It was used for this purpose between 1648 and 1873. The facade is quite modern - dating from the 20th century, but as it was constructed using Scamozzis original plans, it doesn't look out of place.
The Municipal Library, was named "A.Mai" (after the palaeographer Cardinal Angelo Maj) in 1954. It has around half a million books and a priceless collection of works by Torquato Tasso, as well as numerous manuscripts and parchments.
I had a quick look around the reception hall, at the busts and statues as well as a couple of funeral monuments, (pics 4 & 5) which were sited here in 1934.
This impressive centre-piece of Piazza Vecchia was designed by Alvise Contarini - a former Mayor of Venice, who presented it as a gift to the people of Bergamo in 1780.
It is Baroque in style. Stone lions and tritons surround it, and drinking water spouts continually from the mouths of 2 female figures.
This fountain has only been in the Piazza since 1922, when it replaced a monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi. (This monument can now be seen in the lower town in the centre of the Rotonda dei Mille).
I thought it looked quite attractive at night, when it was illuminated.
This Palace of Law or Palace of Municipality dates back to medieval times. It is probably one of the most interesting and the oldest palaces in the square.
It was built in the late 12th century. However it was mainly destroyed by fire (or fires) during the 15th century.
In the second half of the 16th century, following yet another fire (which destroyed the first floor) the architect Pietro Isabello had the palace rebuilt. He used four of the the existing pillars to support the roof. He designed the loggia, with vaults on the ground, a large room on the upper floor and a wide middle window - all typically Venetian in style.
The facade of this Palace used to face South, into Piazzo Duoma, but following the reconstruction of the Piazzo, (and rebuilding of the palace) it was decided to have the facade facing northwards and into the Piazzo. The covered main staircase at the side, which leads to the upper rooms was added at this time
Things to look out for on this facade include The Lion of Saint Mark, which is a reminder of the long domination by Venice in Bergamo
The sun-dial (set into the ground underneath the porticoes) (pic 5) was completed in 1798 by Giovanni Albricci. Hanging from the porch ceiling is a disc, with a central hole - At noon, when the sun passes through this hole, to the sun dial it shows the meridian line. (It wasn't until my second visit, when the covers were removed from this building that I saw the sun dial, which was quite impressive, even though it was past mid day.
"Sundials measure time based on the actual position of the Sun in the local sky. This time is called the apparent (or local) solar time. Noon is the precise moment when the Sun is on the meridian (which is an imaginary line passing from north to south through the zenith) and the sundial casts its shortest shadow. Before noon, when the Sun is on its way to meridian, the apparent solar time is ante meridian (a.m.) and past noon the apparent solar time is post meridian (p.m.)."
There are some quite amusing sculptures and bas reliefs lining the exterior and interior walls of the porticoes. (pic 3)
The statue of Torquato Tasso by G.B. Vismara, (1681)
Torquato Tasso (11 March 1544 – 25 April 1595) was an Italian poet of the 16th century. He was the son of a Bergamo Nobleman.
Until the beginning of the 19th century, Tasso remained one of the most widely read poets in Europe. (He also suffered from schizophrenia. ) In this courtyard, an open court was once held, with condemned people being made to sit on a stone, where they were open to ridicule or hostility, by the gathered citizens. Nowadays, it is a place for watching puppet shows.
The upper rooms house events, exhibitions and meetings. At the time of my visit, there was an Art exhibition on, which I was intending to return to later in the day, but I'm afraid that I didn't have the time. Look for the wooden beamed ceiling
As well as seeing the exhibits, it is a chance to view some frescoes dating back to the 1300s and 1400s. Most interesting are considered to be The Three "Philosophers" by Bramante created in 1477.
The porch is often used for filming, as well as wedding ceremonies and picture taking.
Piazza Vecchia (The Old Square) is the heart of Old Bergamo.
This square, is more of a rectangular shape, surrounded by buildings that date from the mid -15th century. (Houses that had been constructed here during the 10th and 11th Centuries were demolished at this time, to enlarge and open up the Piazza)
In 1797, when the French formed the Republic of Bergamo. A “tree of liberty” was erected, and the square was transformed into an open-air ballroom in which - as a symbol of the new democracy - dances were led by an aristocrat partnered by a butcher. The Square was 'carpeted' with tapestries for the occasion!
Some of Bergamos most important buildings are in or are near to the Piazza.
Facing into the square from Via Gombito, with the Civic Library behind you, The building in front of you is The Palazzo Della Ragione (The Municipal Palace of Bergamo), to its right, is The Torre Campanaria (Tower of the Big Bell).
Between these 2 structures, an archway leads you into Piazzo del Duoma (The Cathedral Square)
On the right of the square, is The Pallazzo del Podesta Veneto (The Palace of the Mayor of Venice). This is now the University Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature.
In the centre of the Piazza is a fountain- The Fontana di Alvise Contarini
I'm going to cover each of these in more detail in my following tips
Also in the square are a few restaurants and bars (my visit was in November, so I'm sure that there will be more tables and chairs in the square during the warmer months). I had a couple of meals at one of the bars here, as well as enjoying my food, it was a great people watching spot.
Try to visit Piazza Vecchia at 2200 hrs, when the bell rings out over a hundred times - I'll explain why in my later tip.
The City tower is called "Campanone" tower by the people ("campanone" means big bell), it was built in the 12th century. Every night at 10 o'clock the Campanone tolls many strokes, in the past this worned the people that the gates were closing. I've never counted them and somebody says they're 130 strokes and somebody else says they're 180. If you count them, please tell me!!
You can visit this tower, climbing his stairs you can reach the top and admire Piazza Vecchia from there and all the upper town.
Recently they added a lift to reach the top of it and you can enjoy a beautiful view with little fatigue! Have a look at my video on youtube: The view from Campanone Tower
This palace was for us the most remarkable building at the Piazza Vecchia, the very place that attracts you when you first arrive at the square. Although it was built originally earlier, what we see nowadays dates back from the XVth and XVIth centuries. Its loggia leads into the religious area of the Piazza del Duomo. So, it seems to draw a line which separates the secular world of Piazza Vecchia, with its market and secular power functions and the spiritual world, which remains hidden and quiet behind the palazzo.
Este palacio fue para nosotros el edificio mas destacado de la Piazza Vecchia, ese lugar que atrae tu atencion la primera vez que llegas a la plaza. Aunque fue construido originalmente antes, lo que ahora vemos data de la reconstruccion realizada en los siglos XV y XVI. Su loggia conduce a la zona religiosa, la Piazza del Duomo. Asi, parece marcar una linea que separa el mundo secular de la Piazza Vecchia, con sus funciones mercantiles y de poder secular y el mundo espiritual, que permanece oculto y tranquilo detras del palacio
This medeival palace was the see of local authorities. Although the architectural style always remained gothic, its apperance changed several times due to fires. After one in 1293, the arches on the ground floor were opened to create a passage to the Piazza Duomo. The most important change took place in 1453, when the rear side looking towards Piazza Vecchia was made the front one. This was part of the redesign of the Piazza Duomo where renaissance style was the predominant one. Its present appearnce dates from 1526, when the last larger redesign took place. Today, it is used as a conference and art exhibition center. Similar to the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, there are many artworks to discover at the outside of the building. So take time to look.